Posted on September 9, 2015 | Back to Movies and Television
As nerds have gone from the butt of everyone's jokes to mainstream phenomenon, it's curious how popular culture has portrayed them — including in sit-coms. Here are my six favorite nerd-loving sit-coms... in no particular order.
Although not as long on the classic nerd culture references as some of the other shows in my list, I'm including this ITV British series because female nerds are sadly under-represented in TV and movies but Miranda could very well be their standard-bearer. Conceived and written by comedienne Miranda Hart, the story revolves around a hopelessly arrested 30-something (Hart) who loves toys, games, make-believe and dressing up. Naturally, her child-like prolivities tend to get in the way of normal social interactions and earning a living. Although the series strayed too often into Miranda's relentless pursuit of Gary, a hunky chef who can't commit, in between were plenty of delightful lessons about how and why it's okay not to fit in. The series ran sporadically from 2009-2013 and is available on Hulu.
Thanks to the irrepressible (and quite possibly sociopathic) Dwight Shrute, the staff of The Office were never without plenty of references to MMOGs, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and that most holy of holies... Battlestar Galactica. Although mocked and persecuted for his love of all things nerd, Dwight was completely unashamed and unrepentent — as any good nerd should be. He even went so far as to show up to the office Halloween party dressed as Starcraft's ultra-villain, Kerrigan. It takes a proud nerd to sport giant purple tit-cups and a "Whoopi Goldberg" wig without any trace of irony or self-consciousness. The series ran on NBC from 2005 to 2012 and is currently available on Netflix and Hulu. It was based on a BBC series by the same title.
Big Bang Theory
Okay, who didn't see this one being on the list? It's true, The Big Bang Theory has done for nerd culture what Will & Grace did for gay culture — made it mainstream. Unfortunately, with success comes a price and that usually means predictable plots and lots of sexual entendre. That's not to say that Theory isn't a funny show with some first-rate performances and amusing guest stars (Wil Wheaton chief among them), but I don't actually consider it the best nerd culture sit-com out there... that honor goes to The IT Crowd. Still, credit where credit is due. Without Theory, it's likely nerd culture would have remained at least partially in the closet, easy fodder for cheap jokes and stereotyped characters. The show is currently in its ninth season. Reruns available through Netflix and the CBS app.
3rd Rock From The Sun
Before any of the other shows on my list except The Simpsons, there was 3rd Rock from the Sun (1998-2001). Interestingly, and perhaps a sign of the times, these "nerds" peculiar behavior was the result of them being extra-terrestrials in human form. The E.T. premise was used deftly and hilariously to explain the characters' high intelligence; fascination with science and popular culture; chronic social awkwardness and frequently outrageous behavior. Helmed by the magnificent John Lithgow and Jane Curtin, the show truly was an ensemble masterpiece. (And it introduced us to a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) I dare say Rock inspired at least The Big Bang Theory in some ways — the main character was a physicists and it was largely set in the academic world, for example. It is avialable on Netflix and Hulu.
The IT Crowd
Probably my favorite nerd culture sit com of all time, the British-made The IT Crowd had diverse plots, memorable characters and some of the smartest writing in television. Sadly, it's not widely known in the US but is definitely worth adding to your Netflix or Hulu queues. As the name implies, it centers around three characters — Roy (Chris O'Dowd), Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Jen (Katherine Parkinson) — who run the IT department for the megolithic Reyholm Industries where they are valued only when someone's computer stops working. Nerd culture in enmeshed in every part of this series and manifests itself in some unusual ways. The episode where Moss helps Roy deal with a break up via a game of Dungeons & Dragons is a stand-out example. The series ran sporadically from 2006 until 2013.
In its early years at least, The Simpsons was one of the best parodies not only of American culture, but of nerd culture. As it's plodded on through a quarter of a century, it's lost plenty of bite and the once cutting satire is often reduced to banal observations on not fitting in with the rest of humanity. Still, when it's great — it's great! Perhaps notable about the show is that its principal nerd, Lisa, is both female and the show's consistent moral compass — rarities on both counts. Over its extremely long run, The Simpsons has also boasted more nerd guest stars than probably any other show on this list — including The Big Bang Theory. The Simpsons is also the longest-running television show in American history. It can be found pretty much everywhere...